In Guillermo Calderón’s new play, three terrorists debate their plans to use a bomb. To make the show theatrically explosive, the depressingly topical subject matter is delivered with risqué comedy. B needs handling with caution; the piece gives extra meaning to the term trigger warning.
The plotters are pretty hopeless, which provides plenty of twists. Danusia Samal plays Alejandra, who hopes her bombs don’t hurt and views her protest as a kind of art work. Samal achieves the near impossible in making such a character credible. Aimée-Ffion Edwards plays Marcela, whose slowly revealed death wish provides much needed pathos. Their bomb is obtained from an older agitator, a role Peter Kaye is refreshingly restrained in. The different views and generational divide amongst the trio provide the play’s weightier moments.
Trouble is, there doesn’t feel like a lot of insight here: terrorists are troubled people. Well, yes… The play’s Chilean origin could have provided new information for a UK audience but isn’t investigated explicitly. We are left with slim, rehearsed arguments for the indefensible – and these are neither stimulating nor challenging.
Managing to make this topic funny is so bold that dismissing the play altogether is impossible. There are some good giggles around using code words for the bomb and anarchist communities. And, translated by William Gregory, poetic streams of consciousness and clever word association compensate for the play’s failings. Director Sam Pritchard is sympathetic to this strength and the cast deliver their lines well. Deserving special praise is Sarah Niles as a mysterious neighbour. This is the one character who gets more interesting as the play goes on. Niles’ off-beat delivery shows a committed appreciation of the text’s entertaining potential.
Calderón is keen on absurdities, his style of writing is exciting and this chance to see his work in London is welcome, but this subject matter deserves more substance than he delivers.
Until 21 October 2017
Photo by Helen Murray
This American Civil War story, much lauded in the US, comes in three parts, following the adventures of its main character, a slave called Hero. Opening with a debate over his ‘choice’ to accompany his master to war, the second act sees a similar dilemma – an encounter with a Yankee soldier that presents him with an opportunity to escape. Finally, Hero returns home a traumatised man. All three vignettes are strong and cumulatively powerful.
Are you waiting for a twist? There is one, of course – playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ inspiration is Homer. Character names are enough of a clue (a dog called Odyssey has a talking role in the final scene) but also note that, in true Greek style, songs play an important part and there’s a distinct lack of action on stage. So there’s highfalutin analysis to be done here, for sure. Above that is Parks’ skill at story telling. Simple. This is an emotive tale of twisted interdependence. Politics aside, the psychology is fascinating, the writing clever but never tricksy. The concept might sound contrived but it’s a back-to-basics approach that works.
The show is also superbly acted. Steve Toussaint as Hero deserves to be singled out. Having to shoulder so many dilemmas, it’s an achievement to hold the audience so confidently. Working with him is an excellent ensemble – a chorus of fellow slaves who return in the finale as runaways, comprising Sibusiso Mamba, Jason Pennycooke and Sarah Niles. Special mention also to Nadine Marshall as Hero’s love, Penny, whose accent is superb and who ensures the emotions in Parks’ riff on the theme of loyalty.
The play’s questions of identity need little further stress – restraint is the key and with this director Jo Bonney’s job is well done. Moments of direct address or the use of modern costume feel like guiding hands rather than gimmicks, so deftly are they handled. Parks is a shrewd observer of history, an original thinker and technically accomplished. But she also has a sincere eye – with a watch on contemporary resonances and why these lives matter – that confronts the audience and sends a chill down the spine.
Until 22 October 2016
Photo by Tristram Kenton